High Point Barbershop

February 01 2015

Thomas Pynchon once wrote, “Change your hair, change your life.” It’s an attitude we fully endorse. This week, we talk to the guys at Richmond, VA’s High Point Barbershop and Shave Parlor about the secret to a good haircut, the ins-and-outs of shop banter, what it means to be modern in a practice that’s heavily steeped in tradition.

We stopped by the shop on a cloudy Thursday just before lunch, as co-owners and barbers David Foster, Jacky Flav and Elliot Kinney were wrapping up a totally booked morning of haircuts and shaves. While the wooden fixtures, antique lighting, and nearly century-old barber chairs suggest a quaint throwback establishment, High Point is anything but. Joey Bada$$ plays through the stereo. Men’s style periodicals, skate mags, and hardbound photobooks of hardcore punk festivals sit side by side on the coffee table, a salvaged rail cart form an old textile mill. Among the various ephemera on the walls are old-school shop photos, a Pearl Jam poster, and a skateboard deck created for the stoner-metal doom band Sleep. This isn’t your average barbershop.

Customers young and old, male and female, of all races book appointments in advance. Some are after a classic style done just right, others are after something a bit different. Jacky himself sports a cut with a zig-zag fade in the back that the guys have dubbed the “Wild Thing” after Charlie Sheen’s haircut in the 1989 sports comedy Major League. Just like a good haircut, it’s the details that make the shop special.

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Every profession has its iconography. For barbering its the chair, barbicide, clippers, scissors, razors and other sharp things. What’s the deal with the barber pole?

David: The barber pole is a strong symbol of history in the trade of barbering. Most people don’t know this but a long long time ago barbers performed small surgeries, dental extractions and bloodletting services. So historically, the metal basin represented the bowl that would catch the blood, the pole represented the staff that the person would hold on to and red and white represented blood and bandages. Most people say that when the pole made its way to America, it became red white and blue paying homage to the Nation’s colors. 

What’s the secret to a good straight razor shave? The perfect haircut? 

In a shave, preparation and execution are key. Every angle, stroke and approach by the barber is extremely important. The process starts with a pre-shave oil or cream massaged into the skin, followed immediately by steamed towels to soften the skin and hair. We then massage hot lather onto the face and begin the shave. When all passes of the razor are complete, we use a cold towel to compress the skin and close up the pores. Finally, an after shave moisturizer helps soothe and calm the skin. It is a relaxing and therapeutic experience. 

As far as a haircut goes, there are two key elements to the perfect cut: communication and execution. Not every guy knows exactly what he wants, in fact, I’d say most guys are unsure or have difficulty expressing it. It is a barber’s job to decipher what the client wants while also delivering what is best for them. Some styles require upkeep, time and product, while some are low-maintenance. While the execution part is pretty self explanatory, it relies on the ability to be able to understand the needs and wants of the client in like two minutes. 

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On the other hand, what’s the best way to keep your beard looking consistently fresh? 

Doing it yourself isn’t always easy, a barber can help you lay the groundwork that will make your beard easier to maintain. The keys to keeping your beard fresh are: trimming the edges, shaping up the outline, and using a natural beard oil.  

Banter is an indispensable part of the barber shop experience, do you make a point to keep up with current events to keep the shop talk fresh?

I don’t know that we consciously keep up with anything. We just flow. The old barber rule is to never discuss politics or religion, everything else is pretty much wide open. Richmond is a culturally diverse city and I’d like to think we stay centered within all of it. Whether it’s debating our love/hate for Pearl Jam’s later albums to candid relationship advice from Jack to deciding whether or not to make a fifth pot of Lamplighter coffee… there is always something to talk about. 

Is there any style you positively hate doing?

An actual mullet. Also kinda cringe when “faux hawk” gets thrown around. 

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Who are your hair style icons? Are you influenced by any particular decade or city or subculture?

I’ve always been obsessed with sports icons and their hair. I wanted a part buzzed down the center of my head like Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets when I was a kid. The older I got the more I became drawn to the classics. I found some great photos of my grandfather and his buddies in the Air Force in the 1950’s. They all looked like they could’ve been shooting for GQ in 2014. There’s something about a well executed taper with styled length on top that will always stand out to me. Men’s hair was at an all time high 1920-1960. 

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As a barber, how do you balance the traditional styles of the past while still staying modern? 

In regards to today’s style, we live in a time when people are simultaneously looking to the past for inspiration while looking forward to find the next big thing. Every new trend in hair is somewhat a derivative of a classic look. It’s a lot like music in my opinion. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin… those bands built the framework for other genres to expand upon. Every rock band today, has been influenced by something that came before them, probably one of those bands. Hair is the same: we may get creative with aggressive fades, or shaving in “parts”, but the root of the look is typically built upon traditional framework. Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” will always be heavy, forever. It’s timeless, just like my grandfathers look in the 50’s. That will always be cool, forever. It’s important to keep up with modern trends, but knowing where it all comes from holds just as much weight. 

What’s next for High Point?

 We have been fortunate that business has remained steady since our grand opening, immediately followed by the busy holiday season. We’re launching a small webstore soon with t-shirts, Square Trade candles (a barbershop scent made exclusively for us) and other exciting projects. We’re working on ideas for a product line of men’s grooming essentials. Maybe we’ll get a shop dog, I don’t know. We just love our craft and are so stoked that other people enjoy what we do.

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